Friday, October 9, 2009

Why Best Picture Oscars are like a Broken Clock

Academy pick: Titanic (Cameron)
SF Strangelove’s pick: The Sweet Hereafter (Egoyan)

Academy pick: Braveheart (Gibson)
SF Strangelove’s pick: Exotica (Egoyan)

Academy pick: Forrest Gump (Zemeckis)
SF Strangelove’s pick: Heavenly Creatures (Jackson)

Academy pick: Dances with Wolves (Costner)
SF Strangelove’s pick: Goodfellas (Scorsese)

Academy pick: Driving Miss Daisy (Beresford)
SF Strangelove’s pick: Do the Right Thing (Lee)

Academy pick: Out of Africa (Pollack)
SF Strangelove’s pick: Brazil (Gilliam)

Academy pick: Amadeus (Forman)
SF Strangelove’s pick: Stranger Than Paradise (Jarmusch)

Academy pick: Terms of Endearment (Brooks)
SF Strangelove’s pick: The Right Stuff (Kaufman)

Academy pick: Gandhi (Attenborough)
SF Strangelove’s pick: Blade Runner (Scott)

Academy pick: Ordinary People (Redford)
SF Strangelove’s pick: Raging Bull (Scorsese)

Academy pick: Rocky (Avildsen)
SF Strangelove’s pick: Taxi Driver (Scorsese)

Academy pick: Oliver! (Reed)
SF Strangelove’s pick: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)

Academy pick: My Fair Lady (Cukor)
SF Strangelove’s pick: Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick)

The actual winners listed above are safe, predictable, comforting films. That couldn’t be more different from what I look for in a film. Sure, I want all the usual things: good story, acting, photography, and so on. But I also want to be challenged. I want to be shown something new, something I didn’t know that I was interested in until I saw it. I want to be surprised, not pandered to. That’s why I rarely agree with the Academy’s choice for best picture.

I will admit to doing some cherry picking to emphasize the cluelessness of the Academy. Every Oscar winner listed above is weak, ponderous, seriously flawed, or all three. As my broken-clock reference suggests, it should be apparent that if a worthy film wins the Oscar it is merely an accident.

You will notice that some of my choices are science fiction films (Brazil, Blade Runner, 2001, and Dr. Strangelove), a genre toward which the Academy is not usually generous. Does this reflect poorly on the science fiction films listed? Or on the Academy?

I bring this up since awards and their relevance is a continuing thread on this blog.

Wikipedia’s Academy Award for Best Picture


  1. It's interesting that you haven't listed an Academy Award for the last 12 years. I can't believe that you approve of all the movies that received Best Picture since 1997. If anything, the choices in the last decade have been MORE lame!

  2. Hi Tony,
    Don't take the absence of an Oscar winner on the list as tacit approval from me. Far from it. If I agree with the Academy roughly once a decade it is only because of the broken clock syndrome. I agree that the last decade has been more cringe-inducing than usual for the Academy.

    I left a gap of time since I think it helps see things more clearly. I am also rather slow catching up with some films. I only recently caught up with a couple interesting movies from 2006: David Lynch’s Inland Empire, which is wonderfully strange, and the Romanian film, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, which was very difficult for me to watch but may be the best film of that year.

    The list represents what I think of as some of the most egregiously boneheaded choices by the Academy, contrasted with some of my favorites that were overlooked.

    What are some of your overlooked favorites?

  3. I'd like to add 2000 winner American Beauty (my pic: The Insider), 2002 winner Chicago (my pic: The Pianist), and 2005 Crash (my pic: Munich). No sci-fi, but all losers artful versions of true events.

  4. Hi Betty,
    That’s exactly what I am talking about. Those three Oscar winners are (in order) weak, weak, and just plain bad.

    1999: Among the best picture nominees, The Cider House Rules (Hallstrom) and The Insider (Mann) are both much better than the winner.

    1999 was also the year of:
    All About My Mother (Almodovar) -- one of the director’s best
    Being John Malkovich (Jonze) -- a wonderful Charlie Kaufman script
    Bringing Out the Dead (Scorsese) -– perhaps his best film since Goodfellas
    Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick) -- underrated, a major work
    Galaxy Quest (Parisot) -- better than any of the Star Trek movies it satirizes.
    Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (Jarmusch) -- Forest Whitaker and Jarmusch are a match made in Heaven
    Magnolia (Anderson) -- a major work
    The Talented Mr. Ripley (Minghella) -- a thriller elevated to art
    Topsy-Turvey (Leigh) -- a delightful period piece
    They are all stronger than the Oscar winner. My choice would be either Eyes Wide Shut or Magnolia, I am not sure which.

    2002: Among the best picture nominees, I agree, The Pianist (Polanski) would be my choice for the best.

    2002 was also the year of:
    Adaptation (Jonze) -- another wonderful Charlie Kaufman script
    Better Luck Tomorrow (Lin) -- a surprising Asian American crime drama
    City of God (Meirelles and Lund) -- a surprising Brazilian crime drama
    The Quiet American (Noyce) -- a strong spy drama set in early 1950s Saigon
    Talk to Her (Almodovar) -- an unconventional love story
    All of which are more interesting than the Oscar winner. My pick is City of God, but The Pianist would be a close second.

    2005 is unusual because the Oscar winner, Crash, is particularly bad. It’s a movie that reinforces the worst stereotypes about race and gender and class, all while delivering a painfully unsubtle sermon about the evils of those same stereotypes. I haven’t actually seen your pick, Munich, but I have every expectation that it is better than Crash. The other 2005 best picture nominees that I have seen are strong films. They are: Brokeback Mountain (Lee), Capote (Miller), Good Night, and Good Luck (Clooney). I can’t come up with anything else for 2005, and I can’t claim that I have caught up with everything I might like. My pick, so far, is Capote.